On his maiden visit to India as the United States Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta would focus on taking the Indo-US defence ties to the next level, besides discussing the situation in the region and the 'rebalancing' of his country's posturing in the Asia Pacific region.
"He (Panetta) would really be focusing on how we move and how we continue to move forward with that partnership," a senior defence department official said as Panetta left the US on a nine-day Asia trip, his second to the region as the secretary of defence.
Panetta, the former CIA chief, would visit New Delhi next week on the last leg of his Asia trip, that would first take him to Singapore where he would attend the Shangri-La Dialogue and then to Vietnam.
The objective of the trip, the official noted speaking on condition of anonymity, is to give a comprehensive account to the partners and countries what "re-balance" in the Asia Pacific region would mean in practice.
In November last year President Barack Obama had said in a major policy speech in Australia that the US was keen to increase its presence in the Asia Pacific region and play a bigger role in its development and progress.
After delivering a major policy speech on US defence posturing in the Asia Pacific region at Shangri-La, Panetta would go to Vietnam from where he would fly to New Delhi where he is scheduled to spend at least two days.
Besides holding his first meeting with his Indian counterpart A K Antony, Panetta is also expected to meet a host of Indian leadership including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He is also slated to deliver a major speech in New Delhi.
"The Secretary has been eager to visit India since assuming this post last year," said the Defence Department official, noting that Panetta attaches great importance to India-US defence ties.
"US India ties are extremely important. They are important on a whole host of ways strategically we see India as partners with whom we have a lot of common interest, we can achieve together in lot of areas we can work together.
"We also have a lot of defence trade with India, it's on an upward trajectory over the past decade. We would be talking about that," the official said.
"We would be discussing the strategic guidance with the Indians. We will be discussing the outcome of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ministerial with the Indians; long term trends in South Asia," the senior Defence Department official said, pointing out that India is the only country which is mentioned in the strategic guidance as a partner.
He said defence interaction with India was becoming a routine, and the US now expects an era in which bilateral defence cooperation would be steady and engagement on a range of issues is regular. To this effect, Panetta will be focusing on how to move forward with the partnership with India.
"We are trying to have a relationship with India that is broad, strategic and continual; that is not focused on a given transaction on a given trip," the official said.
Responding to a question, the senior defence department official said that the US is working with India on a host of issues that would enable technology cooperation, enable US to work with India on better aligning their defence systems.
Without specifically mentioning China, the senior defence official acknowledged that the top Pentagon official would also be talking about military modernisation and military buildup in the region during his India visit.
"We will not be focusing on a particular country. Lots of countries in South East Asia are undergoing military modernisation. Lots of country are asking questions about our rebalance, transparency, co-operation, sharing what countries are doing, why, what their views are, that's really what this trip is about," the senior defence official said.